IT was the will of God to create material worlds as the habitation of reasonable and moral beings made in His own Image. But how can He, the Infinite, Eternal, Unchangeable, Incomprehensible One, manifest Himself to them when made? how bring them into communion with Himself? They cannot know Him, except as He is pleased to make Himself known to them, and in a way adapted to their capacities. He does this in a measure through the creation of the worlds. Out of the Infinite now appears the finite, out of the Invisible the visible. And supposing the worlds to exist and to be inhabited, does their existence prove to their inhabitants that they have a Creator? Do they, looking upon them, say, a God has made both us and our habitation? Let us suppose that His work in creation leads them from this to infer that He is a personal Creator, that they are dependent upon Him, and that He has moral attributes. Yet many problems remain unsolved. The creature may still ask, Is the Creator the only God? Is He allpowerful and all-good? What are my relations to Him? Why am I here? What is my future? He asks, but gets no answer. He studies his material habitation; he studies himself. He finds mighty forces and laws. He cannot find God the Father. His problems remain unsolved.
But could not God give to His rational creatures such high spiritual capacities that, without any direct personal revelation or communication from Him, they might know, not only His existence as one God, the Creator, but also their own relations of dependence, and the duty of obedience? But this knowledge, however great, cannot determine the conduct of life. It cannot take the place of a personal, living, moral Governor. God is still a God afar off. The creature may feel and acknowledge that he ought to do His will, but what is that will? He may even historically know what God has done in the past, rewarding and punishing, but this does not tell him what he is to do day by day. There must be a direct and continual revelation of the Divine will for the guidance of life, and mere knowledge of His will does not give communion with Him as His loving children. It is only through His Son that we know the fatherhood of God, His sympathy and His love.
But, it may be asked again, Could not God make one being far superior to His other reasonable creatures, and through him make known to all His will? This is possible; many have affirmed it. But it is plain that God cannot manifest Himself in all the variety of His relations to His creatures, and in the diversity of His actings, through any creature. How can any created being, archangel, or one yet higher, if possible, take the place of a Redeemer? Can he take upon himself the sins of the other creatures, and by his death destroy the law of sin and death? How can he show forth in his dealings with the fallen the mercy and love of the heavenly Father? How can they honour him as they must honour their Creator and Lord? How can they cry unto him, "Lord, have mercy upon us"? At best, however exalted, he is a creature like themselves, the workmanship of God's fingers. He cannot be the perfect Image of the Infinite, Eternal, and Holy One. The chasm between the Creator and the creature remains. It is not bridged over. No created being can appear before God and say, of the fallen creatures, "I in them, and Thou in me." If the Infinite One cannot make Himself truly known to His rational creatures through any creation, whether of material worlds, or of rational beings, how shall He do this? The faith of the Church is that He does this through the Son's assumption of a created nature. Through this nature the Son makes the highest possible manifestation of God.
But not a few seem to forget this, and speak of the manifestation through the Son Incarnate as if only preparatory to a higher one in Heaven by the Father Himself. The work of the Son, it is said, is to lead to the Father. Having led us to Him, the Son's work as Revealer is ended. Exalted into Heaven, the creature looks upon his Creator face to face. In the brightness of His eternal glory, the glory shining in the face of Jesus Christ becomes dim. Through the finite we enter the realm of the Infinite, where we dwell as in our home. We seek a higher beatific vision than given us in the glorified Son—one of God in His essential glory.
Although few would admit, when it is thus stated, that our Lord could take such a subordinate place in the future, and that His work of revelation is chiefly that of leading to the Father that we may behold Him, yet many expressions in the writings of Christians point to this disparagement of Him. It is well, therefore, to keep clearly in mind that all manifestation of the Godhead to created beings is through the Son as Incarnate; and that all who in the coming ages shall see God, will see Him in the face of Jesus Christ. He alone makes the Invisible visible. A change of place from earth to Heaven does not so enlarge our powers as to enable us to bridge the chasm that separates the Infinite from the finite. This is done only by the Son taking humanity, and in it manifesting the Divine. God in His essential glory is as invisible to us in Heaven as on earth.
Keeping this vital fact ever in mind, that we must see the Father in the Son, the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, let us consider the Person of the Son as the Revealer.
Without attempting to define the relations of the several Persons of the Godhead to one another, we may take the expressions in the Nicene Creed the Son is "God of God" . . . "Begotten of the Father before all worlds" as teaching that He is God by derivation from the Father, not, indeed, that there was ever a time when the Sonship began to exist. It was an eternal relation,—an eternal Father and an eternal Son. Although co-eternal and co-equal, the Church has always taught that of the three Persons, the Son should take upon Himself the work of the Revealer, as most befitting His filial relationship. But as the Revealer, the Son takes what we may call a secondary place. He becomes a means to an end, or rather is both means and end: He is the Way leading to the Father, yet can He say, " Who hath seen Me hath seen the Father." He prays for His disciples that they may be with Him and behold His glory given Him by the Father. It is "the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6). Only as the Son, the visible Image, is glorified can the invisible Father be glorified.
As the Incarnate Son, Himself co-equal with the Father, He can represent Him, and act for Him in all the relations in which He may stand to His creatures. Whatever the Father may purpose to do, the Son Incarnate can execute, can speak for Him, can appear in theophanies, and by symbols. There is nothing in which He cannot show forth visibly all that is in the Father's heart—His love, His mercy, His anger, His righteous rewards and punishments. As the Son Incarnate, He is ever the same, and can ever be the Father's Representative. Through all ages, and to all creatures, He can make known His will, declare His purposes, teach His people, unite them in one, lead their worship, rule them in righteousness.
Since the capacity of the creature to receive a revelation must determine its nature and degree, we may say that this is the first point which, in the Divine mind, affects the order of God's manifestation of Himself. The words of the Lord, "I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now," express an eternal truth, that God can speak to His creatures only as He has given them ears to hear. The higher the revelations He would make, the higher must be the capacity to apprehend them; and the higher this capacity, the closer the communion with God. The created nature which is best fitted to be the medium of Divine revelation, is that best fitted to apprehend His truth and to enter into the fulness of His love.
But. we meet with many who do not recognise this wide scope of the Incarnation as a revelation of the Father and the means of bringing us into closest communion with Him, nor think of it as lying at the basis of creation, but say that a revelation of God through the Word made flesh, the Son as Incarnate, was not in the Divine purpose when the world was created; it was made necessary through the sin of man. The Incarnation was, so to speak, an afterthought, a remedial measure. If man had not sinned, the Son would not have assumed any created nature. God would have made Himself objectively known to His creatures only through His material works, and moral government. Let us briefly consider this.
If we compare these two forms—revelation and redemption—of the Son's one work, for as the Redeemer He is also the Revealer, and distinguish them, we must regard the former as the chief. Redemption has relation only to the sinful, and is in its nature a transient work. When it is completed, the Son gives up the redemptive Kingdom to the Father, but continues to be the Revealer of God, His visible Image, to all creatures, and through the eternal ages.
Vitally important to us as was His death upon the cross for our salvation, showing to angels and men how God abhors sin, yet His work as Redeemer was only one stage of His work, as the reign of sin and death is but an episode in the history of the human race. The ground of this tendency to subordinate the Incarnation to redemption—the greater to the less—is found in the immediate personal interest which we as sinful beings have in our Lord's sacrifice and atonement. The Cross thus early became the great centre of interest, and His Church lingered at His grave instead of rising and sitting with Him in the heavenly places. Many misinterpreted the words of St. Paul, "I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified," as meaning that the Atonement was the one chief object of the Incarnation, and the great central truth of Christianity. But in fact no other apostle dwells so largely upon the glory of Christ's Person, and upon the wide scope of the Incarnation as embracing not only His work as Redeemer, but as the Revealer of God.
The question, then, before the act of Creation was, How shall the reasonable creatures whom God will make, best know Him? We know the way in which the essential chasm between God and the creature was bridged over, not closed. The Lord said of His relations to the Father and to His disciples, "Thou in Me, and I in them." The creature could not become God, but God could become a creature, and thus make the highest manifestation of Himself. How this could be done, we do not attempt to explain, but accept the teaching of the Church that the Son, the second Person of the Trinity, in a way inexplicable to us, brought Himself within the limits of a creature nature, and was made man. Being the Son, of one substance with the Father, and a Person, He can be His Personal Representative and visible Image. The voice of the Son is the voice of the Father. "Ye have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His shape" (John
We thus reach the conclusion that the perfect form of the Divine manifestation is made through the Son, first as the Word, and then as Incarnate. In Him made man we have the completest revelation of Himself that God can give. To this all that He had done, both in His material works and in the constitution of reasonable moral beings, was preparatory. It is the Incarnation of His Son that sums up and explains all that had preceded it in time. All His works find their centre in and revolve around the Person of the Incarnate Son, "the brightness of His glory, and the express Image of His Person." "No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him."
We may now note briefly the several stages of revelation. Before any act of creation, the second Person of the Godhead, the Son, like the other Persons, was invisible, and became visible only through the assumption of a created nature. He must come forth from the Infinite and Eternal, and appear under the limitations of the finite and temporal; for only thus can He be known by His finite creatures. He stands before the Father's eye as The Word, prepared to carry out in all things the Divine purpose. This purpose involved successive, distinct stages. The work to be done by Him first of all was the creation of the material worlds; and then the creation of reasonable, moral beings. To these, though not as yet Incarnate, He stands in the relation of God's Revealer and Representative, through whom all knowledge of God must come, and who is the sole executor of His will. Assuming here that the first reasonable beings made were angels and men, He does not yet manifest Himself to them visibly as the Word made flesh. The fulness of time has not yet come. Yet we may well believe, as many have affirmed, that all the manifestations of God recorded in the Old Testament were manifestations of Him through the Word, being as yet pre-incarnate. There is no relation of God to His creatures, or manifestation of Himself to them, in which He may not represent the Father. We may, therefore, speak of all the appearances of the Father recorded in the Scriptures as those of the Son. In all cases, it is He who appears, and speaks, and acts. When we read of God's appearing to Adam in Eden, and of His words there spoken, it is the Son taking upon Himself the manifestation of the Father, and declaring His will. It is He who appeared in the burning bush to Moses; who led His people by the cloud and the pillar of fire; who, attended by His angels, amid fire and smoke, with the trumpet blast, spake the Ten Commandments, and gave the Law to the trembling people; who dwelt in the most-holy between the Cherubim, and there communed with Moses.
The same also may be said of the Theophanies —God appearing in the likeness of man. Was it not the Son as the Word who, with His two angels, appeared to Abraham before the destruction of Sodom? who appeared to Moses and the Elders on the mount, when they saw the God of Israel; and to Isaiah, when he saw the Lord sitting upon the throne; and to Ezekiel, when he saw the likeness of a throne, and the likeness of a man above it? He who was to become man already appears in human form, foreshadowing the Incarnation. In the long history of Israel, it is the Son who, as the Representative of the Father, everywhere appears, and by whom He acts and speaks.
Mention may be here made of the Angel of the Covenant, or Angel of God, or of the Lord (Gen. 21: 17; 48: 16), whom many identify with the Son. It is said that God, having chosen the people to be His own in a special sense, and established in a new relation, the Son also now takes a new relation to them (Ex. 14: 19; 33: 2, 14; Num. 20: 16), and becomes, so to speak, their guardian angel. This is in entire harmony with what we have seen of the place and work of the Son as the Father's Representative. But, if He was the Angel of the Covenant, He did not supersede the angels made to be His helpers. Many works were done by them, and doubtless under His direction.1
But we need not dwell longer upon this. It will not be questioned by any accepting Christianity that through the Son Incarnate we may have such knowledge of the Father, and such access to Him, and communion with Him, as would not otherwise be possible. Our Lord says, "No man knoweth the Father save the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal Him," and again, "No one cometh to the Father but by Me." The Son made man is the bond which binds together the Creator and the creature. In Him, God descends to man, and in Him man ascends to God. We can come into the Divine presence only as in the Son. It is one of the petitions in the Lord's intercessory prayer that His disciples "may all be one, even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in us."
1 That the Angel of the Covenant was the Word, the second Person in the Trinity, was the view of most of the Greek Fathers, and is of many later theologians. As the Son is in the Father, so all that are in the Son can enter into the full communion of the Father, and none other can. Whilst all men, as created by Him, are sons of God, and may find Him if they seek Him, yet sonship in its highest sense can be affirmed only of those in the Son, joint heirs with Him, who can enter with Him into the most holy place before the Father.
1 That the Angel of the Covenant was the Word, the second Person in the Trinity, was the view of most of the Greek Fathers, and is of many later theologians.
As the Son is in the Father, so all that are in the Son can enter into the full communion of the Father, and none other can. Whilst all men, as created by Him, are sons of God, and may find Him if they seek Him, yet sonship in its highest sense can be affirmed only of those in the Son, joint heirs with Him, who can enter with Him into the most holy place before the Father.
In taking upon Himself the place of God's Representative to all His creatures, the Son fills all its spheres from the beginning to the end. The last sphere of this representation is that of the Supreme Ruler and Judge. He has now under the Father universal authority and dominion as His King. "I have set my King upon My holy hill." "All authority hath been given unto Me in Heaven and upon earth." "The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son." Through Him, the Father acts in all the administration of His Kingdom, and to Him, therefore, is due all obedience, honour, and glory.
Let us now, taking our stand upon the fact of the Incarnation, note the proof it gives of the love and goodness of God to His reasonable creatures. That He should make them in His own Image, if He created them at all, and thus enable them to know Him, and have communion with Him, and be blessed in Him, may be said to be their creature right. (Of this more will be said later.) But how great should this knowledge and communion be ?—for many degrees of it are possible. That His Son should take a created nature—an act in itself of infinite condescension —and thus manifest the Godhead in the highest possible degree, shows us in the strongest and clearest way how the Father seeks the well-being and happiness of His creatures. We do not speak here of the love shown by the Father in giving His Son to die upon the cross, but of the love shown by Him in the revelation made by the Son through taking a creature nature into eternal union with His own. It is this perfect revelation of Himself to all moral beings, and the blessings that follow it, that will be their eternal joy. And to this condition of knowledge and degree of communion, they could attain in no other way. Through the Incarnate Son alone, the way of approach to the Infinite Father is opened, and His creatures are brought into clearest knowledge of Him, and into closest communion with Him.
Considering the purpose of God to manifest Himself in the highest measure to His moral creatures, and thus to ensure their greatest happiness; and keeping in mind the teachings of our Lord Jesus, that He alone can make the Father known, may we not repeat that but for the purposed Incarnation, there would have been no Creation? No knowledge of the Godhead which the Father could give His creatures in any other way, and no communion into which He could admit them, would fill the measure of His love. Incarnation and Creation stand inseparably together.